The upper North Saskatchewan River at Whirpool Point
Authenticity, desirability, feasibility and viability need to be addressed at every step of the experience development process.
Update – April 2021: We’ve done a lot of work defining what makes an adventure ours over the past few years. You can find out more about how we incorporate the constraints into the adventure development process here.
We’re firm believers that constraints are things that make us more creative. Taking them into account early on in the process allows us to create better experiences and helps us avoid the costly realization later on that the tour we’ve built can’t be offered.
Our approach to constraints is based on design thinking and the idea that innovation happens at the intersection of desirability, feasibility and viability. A good start if you’re looking at learning more about design thinking is available here.
In our adventure context, we find that adding a fourth dimension, authenticity, helps. We could argue that authenticity is part of desirability, but it plays such a critical role in experiences that we find it deserves its own considerations.
Understanding these constraints allows us to be more creative in the design process and ensures that the new adventure can be successful. Failing to address any of the constraints will result in an experience that will feel disconnected, which will be unsustainable, which will result in financial losses or in an experience that we will be unable to take to market.
Sometimes an experience isn’t right for the place, the provider or simply at this point in time. Identifying this allows us to keep a list of ideas to revisit from time to time or to share with other operators before investing our time, energy and resources into developing it.
So, what makes an adventure authentic? Authenticity happens when we are being true to ourselves. Unlike the experience, which comes from within the guest, authenticity comes from the operator, the destination, the guides and the partners involved in the delivery of the experience.
Authenticity is a fairly simple concept when you look at it this way. It means being true to one’s own character: the things we say and the things we do are what we actually believe.
What does it mean in practice? It means that everything we do is grounded in our purpose and guiding principles.
The destination’s sense of place is more subjective. We don’t need to worry about everything it could be or what it means for others, but rather we need to focus on where it aligns with our purpose and what we love to share about it.
Asking ourselves “why us?” and “why here?” is the easiest way to ensure that we remain true to ourselves and our destination.
A desirable adventure is one that meets the needs of the guests while having a positive impact, or at least minimizing negative consequences, on the local community and environment.
What does it mean in practice? We follow our guiding principle that caring for the environment and each other is not a trend, it’s part of living. We use an approach of normalizing actions like reducing idle time on vehicles, using reusable or compostable containers, and following Leave no Trace principles. Our guests notice those things without us having to tell them.
We also embrace the fact that anything we do in this regard will be imperfect. The goal is to do the best we can, given our resources and the reality we live in.
Can this experience be commercially viable? We need to look at whether this experience can generate a profit and if the investment required can be recouped. This includes looking at the market conditions, making sure that there is sufficient demand for this experience. If we are planning to work with the travel trade we need to take into consideration existing itineraries and whether this experience would be a match with their existing products.
In our experience working in developing destinations, it takes three seasons for a new product to reach viability. The first season sees mostly returning guests and visitors who are already familiar with the destination. The second season builds on these early adopters attracting their friends and family through word of mouth. The third season starts to see enough momentum to attract guests who are new to us or the destination.
We need to consider whether it is feasible within our current operations or if it requires major changes. Do we have the right permits, insurance and qualified staff to deliver it? It’s important to also consider the resources needed and how the new adventure will impact our regular operations. Should this be an experience offered on a regular basis or as a special event?
These are the elements we bring together to create the adventure. This is our framework to determine which options will best work together.
The difference between the retail and purpose based approaches to experiences is one of mindset: a focus on the short versus the long term.
All of these activities have the power to transform participants. The difference is on what they aim to change.
The need to explain the difference between a travel package, an itinerary, a destination experience and a product experience is one that we come across often when working with others on new opportunities.
A look at two different ways to craft experiences we often come across, each of them appealing to a different type of operators and guests.